There’s a fair chance golf aficionados might have raised eyebrows in 1932 if two seventeen-year-olds had teed it up in the inaugural Men’s Home Internationals at Royal Troon.
It’s a sign of the times that the selection of English players Jack Bigham and Josh Hill didn’t cause much of a stir when they were named to the England team to contend this year’s R&A Men’s Home Internationals at Hankley Common, in the first year that The R&A assumes management of the round-robin tournament featuring the best men’s amateur golfers from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Bigham, who won this year’s R&A Boys’ Amateur Championship at Royal Cinque Ports, and Hill will complete a unique double when they take their places in the English side: they helped England win the R&A Girls’ and Boys’ Home Internationals at Woodhall Spa last month.
They join a strong team defending the trophy that England won at Lahinch Golf Club in Ireland two years ago (the 2020 event was cancelled due to Covid-19). The English side includes Laird Shepherd, Sam Bairstow, Callan Barrow, Zachary Chegwidden, Jack Dyer, Arron Edwards-Hill, John Gough, Olly Huggins and Haider Hussain.
Shepherd is the reigning Amateur champion, Bairstow the Brabazon Trophy winner, Gough won the English Amateur, Barrow the Scottish Men’s Open Championship, while Chegwidden, who finished second to Bairstow, claims the South East of England Links Championship and Berkshire Trophy as wins this season.
Strength in depth
England Performance Director Nigel Edwards, whose Walker Cup exploits include for matches as a player and three-times captaining the Great Britain and Ireland team, says players competing in the Men’s Home Internationals after competing in the junior version is “unique in my time.” However, Edwards isn’t surprised.
“It’s just another sign of the strength of amateur golf in Great Britain and Ireland,” said Edwards, who has been England Performance Director since 2012. “The line between the best junior and senior amateur is incredibly thin.”
Bigham and Hill were unbeaten as a foursomes pairing in the Home Internationals. They also represented Europe in the Jacques Léglise Trophy at Falsterbo Golf Club in Sweden when the Continent of Europe lifted the trophy with a 16½-8½ winning score.
History favours England
England was dominant in winning the 2019 match at Royal County Down to triumph in the Home Internationals for the second straight year. The 11-strong English side won all three encounters against Ireland, Scotland and Wales to top the points tables with three points, winning a total of 31 matches against 14 losses.
Scotland was second with two points and a 24-21 won loss record; Ireland third with one point and a 23½-21½ differential, with Wales finishing last with no points and a 11½-33½tally.
England will be favourites again this year based purely on world rankings averages. The England team features an average World Amateur Golf Ranking® of 324th, with Ireland averaging 499, Scotland 641 and Wales 2706. Bairstow is England’s highest ranked play at 30th, while 50th ranked Shepherd is one of two top 50 players.
Caolan Rafferty is Ireland’s highest ranked player at 143rd. However, he has been as high as 14th. The 2019 Walker Cup player includes the West of Ireland (2019) and South Of Ireland (2018) championships among his tournament victories. He was also medallist in The Amateur Championship in 2017.
Rory Franssen is Scotland’s number one player at 238th, while 449th ranked James Ashfield takes that honour for Wales.
However, as previous Home Internationals have proven, these matches are not played on paper. National pride is at stake here, just as it was in 1932 when the inaugural Home Internationals took place at Royal Troon.
As the Glasgow Herald reported, JN Smith of Elie and Earlsferry Golf Club earned the winning point by defeating England’s ER Tipple 3&2. Under a headline that read “A Day of Many Thrills,” and a story “From Our Own Correspondent,” – no bylines in 1932 – the Herald story began “It was for Scotland the end of a perfect day when Smith clinched the matter, and the Scottish Lion was, amid cheers, run up the flagstaff, where all week the flags of the four Unions had flown.”
Which flag will fly highest at Hankley Common in a series in which England has won or shared the title on 46 occasions, Scotland 26 times, Ireland 18 with Wales lifting the trophy just once?Draw for the first round of matches can be found here and full team lists here.